Within this text Johnson explained how reading communities in Rome and Greece were affected by the bookroll. This object influenced societal structures and the reading communities themselves. Participation within the reading communities and developing a group’s reading taste was fundamental for developing an individual’s social connections. Johnson did this to show the audience how literary works were so closely tied to the sociocultural structure during the first millennium. This allowed for the readers to become more involved with the work itself. Johnson believed that in order to understand readings for what they are one must know and be familiar with its historical context.

If an individual could not understand the reading the text would be subjected to a line of questioning by its readers. Within the scene from Gellius, Johnson describes the behavior and actions of an educated group in determining the readings’ meaning. Individuals that could afford a bookroll gathered with one another and read aloud. They took the time to look over these readings before so that they would know the material. Only the elite had access to these reading materials so they spent time with one another discussing these ideas. Johnson says, “It is the combination of urgent, directed inquiry into the text and more open-ended discussion that makes this classic text enduringly vital to the community” (p. 112). Most elites gained understanding because they spent several hours before studying the readings as a whole. And as they gained more understanding they became more involved in their reading communities and forming their own opinions.

It was believed that the Roman elites were to be virtuous in their time management so that through study of literary work they could facilitate the discussion amongst their friends. And if an elite were to be respectable they would spend less time gambling and drinking in order to study and memorize these readings so that they could dissect it. This allowed for them to fully grasp the nature of the literature and separated them from the masses as long as they understood the reading language for themselves. Johnson remarked, “Literary matters, like bookrolls, were decidedly for the few” (p. 118). It was these reading communities helped determine what text was popular and successful by acknowledging their own likes and dislikes of certain readings. Reading communities were established to separate the elite from the masses so that the elite could acquire connections that might benefit one for greater wealth or social status.

So why did Johnson want the reader to recognize the need for studying literary text within its historical background? It was to prepare the readers by showing them the importance of being aware of the texts qualities as well as its possible effects in may have on other parts of society. For example, Johnson spoke about the development of the bookroll that eventually led to the creation of the codex. This is seen as a formation from potential reading communities’ preferences and opinions as well as Christian influence. Johnson explains that there was never a single causation but, “there were broader cultural dynamics in play than those of convenience, probably involving specific, influential reading communities;” (p. 120). As the bookroll influenced many reading communities so did the reading communities effect the progression of media.


There were a few things I was unsure about. As Johnson was explaining the structure of the bookroll he was saying that the Romans and Greeks came up with the idea of the period and “… the paragraphus…_serve as a sort of skeletal punctuation,” on page 105. As Johnson said the Romans dropped the punctuation and word separation did they also drop the strucuture, “_paragraphus?” Is that how paragraphs were originated or was this development something that came along and then resurfaced again later? I was also unsure about the mentioning of the “overlapping of social networks” on page 115. Was Johnson referring to the reading communities or is he mentioning networks that were completely separate from the reading communities?


I thought it was very interesting that in the last paragraph as Johnson was explaining the structure of an active reading group and how teachers should make the text relevant. Johnson says on page 121, “These group dynamics –the construction of the attitude in the reader that Plato is important, that Plato should be interesting –are fundamental to education, and fundamental to the high intellectual experience.” How would a teacher make historical text relevant to students in education today? How could fashioning people to a group with same interests help students understand the importance of historical context within a literary text?